SCHOOLS across Flintshire have been dealing with a ‘challenging situation’ in terms of pupil behaviour since the pandemic, the leader of the council has said.
Flint Castle Cllr Ian Roberts, leader of the Labour group which leads the authority said while the majority of pupils in the county are very well-behaved, schools have experienced a rise in challenging behaviour post-pandemic.
His comments came during a meeting of the authority’s Corporate Resources overview committee to look at the council’s financial position before the budget is set next month.
This was the first meeting of the committee since December’s Local Government Settlement which saw the council’s projected budget ‘black hole’ reduce from £32m to around £13m.
Questions were raised by the Independent opposition group on the council about increasing school transport costs and that of its Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) which caters for pupils with a range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Opposition group leader Connah’s Quay Central Cllr Bernie Attridge said: “I can remember quite clearly we were sold the PRU on the basis of the amount of money overall it’s going to save the council, especially transport costs, and here we have the first 12 months, there’s a £200,000 pressure.
“Is that going to be ongoing year after year?”
The council’s Streetscene and Transportation chief officer Katie Wilby said children’s needs can change quickly, sometimes over the course of a term which can lead to more transport being needed for those with additional learning needs, or those being referred to the PRU.
Later in the meeting the leader of the council, Cllr Ian Roberts expanded further saying that schools had faced increased behavioural challenges post-pandemic.
“Schools are facing quite a challenging situation at the moment with pupil behaviour across all sectors”, he said.
“Since the pandemic – and I know we’re supposed to pretend that that didn’t happen – but since the pandemic and the issues which have arisen, pupil behaviour in many schools has deteriorated. And many schools are dealing with problems.
“If as a last resort young people are moved to the PRU, then there is a cost to it.
“I know Cllr Attridge mentioned earlier that we were sold the PRU. We were sold the PRU before the pandemic so we were not aware at that time of the problems that would arise in pupil behaviour as a result.
“Now the vast majority of our pupils in our schools behave very well and the schools are supported by parents but there are some quite specific difficulties in some areas and those young people are provided with their education in the PRU.
“There is a cost in the PRU and there is a cost in transport to the PRU.
“Yes, it is possible to predict the number of pupils with ALN (additional learning needs) coming through but it is not possible to predict individual pupils’ actions in school which may cause them to be transferred to the PRU and may then increase the pressure.”
Cllr Roberts suggested a more detailed briefing could take place in a ‘Part 2’ private and confidential meeting not open to the public or press, so “the council’s position could be explained in full without giving away its position in a public meeting”.
Chairing the meeting, Buckley Bistre East Cllr Richard Jones said he felt a ‘Part 2’ was not necessary because certain figures were already in the public domain.
Earlier Cllr Roberts had commented on projected increases in public sector pay.
He said: “Public sector pay is obviously something that is taxing everybody and I suppose taxing is the interesting thing because the solution to this inevitably is to increase taxes.
“You cannot expect world-class public services with low income tax, National Insurance, and so on.
“We are aware that the National Insurance rise was cancelled which would have brought in additional income for social care and other services.”
Members noted the update on the council’s medium term financial strategy, with the budget and council tax set to be decided on at a meeting of full council on February 23.